A recent study found that talking to daughters about their weight may cause long-term damage to their body image and their health. Parents want to have conversations about healthy living, but don't focus on a scale number. Instead, shift attention from the child's body to food and making healthy choices.
Parents always want to be supportive of their children, whether that means going to every soccer game or instilling wisdom as their children grow. Most of the time the advice is unsolicited and with good intentions, but some topics ride on a slippery slope.
A new study from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab reveals that when parents comment on their daughter’s weight growing up, the girls are more likely to grow up overweight and be unsatisfied with their body image as adults. Author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, Brian Wansink, PhD, conducted the study and stated this study shows that it is never a good idea to comment on a woman’s weight, healthy or otherwise.
The study surveyed over 500 women between the ages of 20 and 35 years old. They were asked to recall when their parents commented on their weight and reflect on how that affected their body image growing up. The women's current weight was also recorded.
Women with a current healthy BMI were less likely to recall memories of their parents commenting on their weight and how much to eat or not eat growing up. However, a small group of both overweight and healthy weight women recalled their parents commenting on their body image when they were growing up. Now, they report, they are less satisfied with their weight and body. The study also discovered that regardless of weight, comments on a girl’s eating habits and body image are equally damaging.
As parents, we may think talking to our children, both daughters and sons, about weight is helpful step in keeping them healthy and happy as they grow. As this study indicates, however, parents need better tools for having these types of conversations without focusing directly on weight loss and body image.
Helpful Hints for Talking with Kids About Weight
- Instead of commenting on the amount of food your kid eats or a noticeable weight fluctuation, parents can talk about food's positive qualities. Explain how fruits and vegetables help you grow muscle and bone and keep you from getting sick. Let children make their own choices when it comes to food, but keep the choices narrowed to fresh and healthy picks.
- Have family dinner together every night, and get your children in the kitchen cooking with you. This will help them develop healthy habits and natural culinary curiosity as they grow. Also, when you're proactive about preparing healthy habits in their lives, you won’t be left pushing your children to change later, when their habits are already established.
- Variety is key, and proving that healthy food is delicious and fun to cook will stick with children as they grow. Let them explore the produce section at the grocery store. Allow them to pick out something new to try on occasion. Their natural curiosity may open them up to foods you would never have introduced them to otherwise.
- Be healthy as a family. Go for walks and get outdoors as much as possible to go beyond healthy habits in the kitchen. Exercise is a cornerstone of a healthy life. The sooner your child learns the importance of staying active for a healthier body, the better their health will be in the long run.